One weekend afternoon I was feeling like a moth to the flame as the fading sunset light gave everything a golden, glowing sparkle of goodness, and I was desperately on the lookout for something interesting to capture. It's in those moments of the "golden hour" that the senses are heightened because the light is so powerful and magnificent, almost everything looks good (of course that's not true, but the mind plays tricks on you at times!). As I drove down a gravel road west of Mount Vernon, Iowa, I passed by some railroad tracks and just happened to glance over at them as the car passed by. What I saw made me hit the brakes hard and pile out of the car!
The rails were lit-up like hot electric steel, almost glowing from the reflected sunlight. As I stood and pondered the scene, it occurred to me there was some extreme contrast here, with the sun fading to the west and the darkness all around. But I was determined that this had to be a photo in the making, so started shooting. I was very doubtful anything would turn out, but went for it anyway. The first few photos were terrible - the wrong shutter speed was used so everything was slightly blurred. I didn't want to use flash because that would ruin the overall mood and colors, so I increased the ISO settings to 400, which enabled a quicker shutter speed, and presto, things started to take shape.
Holding the camera as still as possible (no tripod due to sun fading so fast), I continued to adjust the aperture (thus affecting shutter speed), and the exposure compensation (to get the sunset exposed just right), until a decent photo appeared on the camera's display. In the film days, this would have been a total trial and error situation, where trusting the camera's sensor and film was paramount to getting the right color balance and exposure, and waiting a week to get the film back was the only option.
But in today's digital world, instant feedback is your best friend, so why not use it? Out of the 7 or 8 shots taken over a period of a few minutes that afternoon, this one seemed to portray the beauty of the scene most accurately. Although it may be a bit dark for some, I think the glowing tracks, darkness and awesome light of the sunset compliment each other for a pleasant nature photo. Very little post-processing was required since the exposure and colors were very close to what the end result was in my mind.
So when you're out and about and have some doubts about a photo or scene, the best thing you can do is shoot it out! Let it fly, and make adjustments on the run. Let your mind wonder and explore. There's a reason they call photography an art - nobody has the formula - but you do have the ability to capture some amazing things with your camera, so get to it!